In a world where hostile nations wield magic in combat, twin sorceresses separated at birth and brought up on opposing sides of the war find each other. Together, they face persecution for using wild magic, fight against traitors and assassins, explore family secrets, and discover the hidden origins of magic itself. Above all, to protect their world, they must deal with ancient, powerful dragons that most people don’t even believe exist.
Most people in the country of Saphradea admire sorcerers and dream of having magical powers. Not Merina, a young woman who detests magic because she thinks it ruined the life of her mother, a failed sorceress candidate who abandoned her in infancy.
When Merina’s fiance, Trinames, announces he’s decided to go for training as a Healer sorcerer, her personal world turns upside down. Merina is heiress to a tract of rich farmland, and she wants only to manage her own property and bring up a family in peace–a dream she thought Trinames shared. Yet events conspire to force her into a realm of magic and intrigue she never wanted.
When Trinames is kidnapped and she strikes out across the wilderness to rescue him, in company with a wandering trader who turns out to be more than he appears, she runs into a crisis that awakens magical powers she shouldn’t even possess.
GENRE: Fantasy ISBN: 978-1-922233-68-4 ASIN: B06Y12YYDT Word Count: 86, 364
In a high-vaulted cave in the depths of the Non-Lands, a venerable female spoke. “Those whom we oppose, the Others, have accelerated their plan.”
A younger, male voice replied, “I see no indication of that, Mother.”
“There have been excursions off the settled land.”
“They are a curious people, this is to be expected.”
“No, son of mine, their memories should have prevented this. They are being encouraged to go where they cannot survive.”
“I know that is what the Others want, Mother, but the will to survive is strong in the people.”
“Just so, my son. If they cannot expand, they will turn on each other. Then the killing will begin again.”
“So soon, after the last time?”
“They learn quickly, but they forget just as quickly. It is time, my son, to create the Chosen. We must use the Subject now. The Others are moving to interfere. They are making problems for her.”
“Can we truly use her? She will resist.”
The female voice reverberated through the vast caverns. “Trust me to shatter that resistance.”
“Very well, I will send the Guardians for her as you have commanded, Mother.”
* * *
“You’re going away to become a Healer?” Merina asked in shock, pushing herself away from Trinames’s embrace to look into his eyes, hoping to see a twinkle there that would tell her he was joking. All she saw in his face was anxiety. “When did you get tested? Why didn’t you tell me you were going to do that?”
“I’m going after the fall ingathering, love. Byklandes only trains magic-users over the winter months. I’ll be back in the spring.” He cushioned his words with a tentative touch on her shoulder. “I would have told you earlier, but I knew you’d get mad–like you just have. I want to learn to use spells and–”
“You are a farmer’s son, you work the land. That is what you know how to do. Why do you want to learn magic?” Sweeping her right arm in a wide arc, she pointed at the fields of corn growing next to them in the warm summer’s sun. “What use do we have for it here? It doesn’t take magic to make plants grow. What are you thinking?”
Merina knew she was quick-tempered and did not want to destroy the warm bond she always enjoyed with her lover. She let him go and turned her back to him, facing the barn so he would not see the tears in her eyes.
Trinames’s anxious voice behind her continued to softly plead his case. “Farmers need healing magic as much as anyone. As a Healer I can help people, ease their suffering. And just as importantly, I could heal animals–”
“Magic-users are sworn to service; they forsake gathering wealth. More often than not they are paid off in dead chickens, eggs, cheese–not gold. I was born to manage a farm, growing produce for profit, not just being forced to live on what others give us. How can we afford such a life? We were supposed to become life-mates this midsummer. How could you change the plan without one word to me? Should I be grateful you told me now instead of the day before you leave?”
Trinames’s refusal to match Merina’s anger with his own exasperated her still more. She stiffened when he stepped behind her and put his hands on her shoulders, pulling her back against him so he could murmur against her hair. “We will be life-mates–after I become a Novice.”
Twisting out of his grasp, Merina wiped the moisture away from her cheeks and spun to face Trinames. “That’s just it. I don’t know much about magic-users, but I do know this… They don’t allow the students at their training lodges to have life-mates until they graduate and become…” she groped to find the words, “apprentices. You realize it takes four years to become a magic-user? Four years!”
“Graduated magic-users are called Novices, love. I know, believe me, I know. But the valley needs Healer support. I can provide that.”
The earnestness in his voice told Merina her love was convinced of the right of his claims. It made her stop for a moment to think, remembering last summer, when she had spent half a night helping him spread wet towels over a colt with a high fever, only to have it die anyway. A messenger had been sent for the valley’s Healer, Sorceress Helinu, who couldn’t come in time because she had been tied up with a human patient. Merina recalled Trinames’s bitter remark that if only their community had more than one Healer, the colt might have survived. So the harbingers of this decision were in front of me already, she thought bitterly. But she did not want to concede his point, saying “The valley needs a Healer? What happened to Helinu? She is not that old–only middle-aged. She has done the job alone now for twenty years.”
Trinames tried to step forward to hold Merina, but she pulled back. She knew accepting his embrace would weaken her will to fight. She forced herself to ignore his familiar sun-warmed scent and the appeal in his soft, brown eyes. Soothingly, he said, “Sorceress Helinu has been accepted for the next level of sorcerer training after all these years of working alongside the people gaining the experience she needs to advance. She really deserves to be an Adept, but she can’t leave until she is replaced.”
“How nice of her to seek further training at the expense of supporting us.” Merina shook her head. “This does not make sense, love. No sense at all. They are going to replace a Sorceress with a Novice. Your becoming a Novice is going to solve the valley’s problem? I thought you said we needed more Healers, not one, and that one less qualified? Why don’t her guild bosses accept their responsibility to replace her with a Sorceress or maybe even an Adept?”
Trinames shoved his rough farmer’s hands into his pockets as if he didn’t know what else to do with them besides reach for her. “Sorcerers don’t have guilds, love–they have a Council of Magi. The Council has been short on magic-users for decades, especially Healers. They have been promising Sorceress Helinu for years that they would send a replacement when they could. But because the valley has grown so much over the last two decades, there is just too much work for one Healer at her level of skill. They finally agreed that if the valley found a candidate to go into training, they would send a substitute for her.”
“You have lost me, Tri. This Council has known for years they needed to replace Helinu, but they can’t train a replacement in all that time. Just how is that possible?”
“Merina, love,” Trinames groaned with frustration, “there just are not enough candidates that take the Test and pass it–especially among those out in the provinces like ours. It takes a lot of Novices to be trained to be sent into service to develop the skills and experience to become Sorcerers. Not all Novices can become Sorcerer candidates, nor will all Sorcerers become Adept candidates. They want to support Helinu, but they are short of Neophytes–candidates for Novice. The problem, simply put, is the Council needs more Neophytes. Our valley has not sent anyone for training in decades, not since–”
Merina cut him off. “Not since my mother? Is that what you are going to say?”
Clearly Trinames did not want to bring up Merina’s mother, a subject that always infuriated Merina. “It has nothing to do with your mother, love. The Council reminded Sorceress Helinu of the royal edict that all the youth in Saphradea between the ages of ten and fourteen are required to be tested–something all of the provinces have been ignoring. The towns and villages obey the law, but…”
Clenching her hands on her hips, Merina narrowed her eyes and glared at Trinames. “But dumb farmers and landowners need their children at home to help produce food so the rich craftsmen and merchants can idly enjoy their gold. So now, because Helinu hasn’t been doing her job of testing farmers’ sons and daughters all these years, she has been told to produce more Neophytes before they will find her a replacement. Isn’t it rather strange to you that she, after all these years, has suddenly started finding candidates?”
“What are you asking?”
Throwing her arms up, Merina snapped at him, “You are the son of a son of a landowner. No one in your family has ever shown the least ability toward magic. Now all of a sudden you appear before Helinu and take the Test–and miraculously pass.”
Trinames’s tone sharpened. “Unlike you, the daughter of a woman who wielded the Power. Are you jealous that I passed and you did not?”
“Is that what you think?” Merina gaped at him in disbelief. “You know what I think about magic. I hate it! It weakens the mind and will and turns you away from what is good and right. It is unnatural, my misinformed love. You also know I have never been tested, nor would I allow myself to be.”
“Why not at least try?”
“And prove what? Look, Tri, I think you have been lied to by our Healer. Everyone knows you come into magic when you come of age. We are both four years past that. Both of us are too old. If you passed, it is because Helinu is desperate to begin her Adept training. Tell me otherwise.”
“Coming of age is when our bodies change to be able to have children–” he started, but Merina cut him off.
“Tell me about it. I thought you liked my woman’s body,” Merina said, emphasizing her words by passing her hands along her sides and down onto her legs.
Trinames’s eyes followed her hands, and he sighed. “You know I do, but that has nothing to do with magic. Helinu says the mental discipline to learn to use Power works best just as our bodies began the change. The training lodges found that if they wait until boys and girls discover their sexuality they take much longer to learn the magic.”
Merina cradled her breasts in her hands and smiled wickedly at Trinames’s eyes locked on her fingers. “You are living proof of that wisdom, my love. You would leave me this winter knowing what we could be doing instead of your reciting age-old phrases and poring over musty scrolls! This is your choice?”
“No–yes. I do this for our future.”
“Our future?” Merina retorted. “Your future, perhaps. My friends are having babies and starting homesteads. It is what I should be doing, what I have trained all my life for. Now you decide to take all that away from me. That is unfair of you. It’s just not right!” Overcome by her indignation, Merina turned and ran from Trinames, wishing she could block out his cries of protest.
* * *
She fled up the hill to the lone, tall tree that stood at its crest. Under the huge canopy of the tree sat the chair she had made and placed there when she was ten years old. As she had proudly told her aunt and uncle, it was her sitting tree in her thinking place.
Merina dearly loved to contemplate the view from this spot, but not now. The hot tears flooding down her face obscured her vision. She blindly lowered herself onto the chair, burying her face in her skirt. She tried to choke off the unpleasant wailing she emitted so the noise would not bring her aunt from the house, but her heart would not listen to her mind. She succeeded only in causing herself to gasp for breath, which at least lowered the pitch. No one came out to check on her.
Damn it, why did he do that? Merina let the anger fill her mind. With each “why” she uttered aloud, further tears poured down her cheeks. She wiped them briskly away, only to feel them replaced by the next stream. Stop now! She ordered herself, Stop! The tears slowed, and she noticed with disgust that her nose was now draining in their place. Oh, now, how beautiful you must look.
She glanced down the hill to see if Trinames was watching her and with a surge of regret saw him riding away. Silly girl, you ran away from him. What did you expect him to do?
Merina sat back and watched her lover until he disappeared into the forest at the end of the road that led to her farm, leaving her with a dull ache in her breast. Why had she lashed at him so sharply? Was it because of being unable to fulfill her dreams of the past year to become his life-mate now, or was it waiting for four years, or was it his wanting to become a magic-user? It dawned on her that she had reacted most strongly when Trinames had brought up her mother.
Mother! Not that I ever knew you.
Merina had known no mother other than Alanu, the youngest sister of Delaphinu, Merina’s birth mother. Auntie Alanu had become her foster mother almost immediately after her birth. Barely weaned, Merina was handed over the same night that Delaphinu left the valley for good. At sixteen and unmated, Alanu raised the baby as her child, and until the birth of Alanu’s first son, Merina had no idea she was not born of Alanu. Merina was old enough then to be aware of her aunt’s pregnancy and had been fascinated with the development of the baby. When Merina asked Alanu if she had been as big as the coming baby, her aunt had told her the truth.
Alanu was the one who had insisted Merina recognize Alanu’s oldest sister as the birth mother. Learning to call Alanu “Auntie” took many years–not that it changed how Merina thought of her foster mother. Feeling nothing for the woman who abandoned her, whenever Auntie had tried to tell Delaphinu’s story to her, Merina had refused to listen, denying the truth.
Merina understood now the immaturity of that attitude. All she had focused on during those years was the fact that the woman who gave birth to her had deserted her. Anything that Delaphinu could be blamed for–being a drunk, sleeping around–was used to nourish the bitterness Merina had built up. The knowledge that Delaphinu was one of the few from the valley who became a magic-user was not a source of pride, but a reminder of why Merina had been left motherless.
Yet she hardly acknowledged what her mother had given her. Merina viewed whatever good her mother had provided as just due payment for the injustice she had suffered at her mother’s hand. Now, in her present unhappiness, Merina saw that what she had previously thought of as unhappiness was the sulking of a child. Merina had not lived a hard life so far. What she was living was a life filled with what Merina wanted–very selfish of her.
Looking out across the fields, Merina took a fierce pride in the holding she considered hers–or one day would be, once the courts approved her grandfather’s will. Romanus, Delaphinu’s father, had left a major share of his land to his oldest daughter, hoping it would make the missing woman want to return to the valley. The farm her aunt and uncle held was part of Delaphinu’s holdings, which would pass to Merina when the Prince of Princes’ court finally acknowledged Delaphinu was dead.
Merina had fiercely wanted to believe that the lure of wealth would actually bring her mother back, but over the last five years the idea that Delaphinu was deliberately staying away to punish her family took root in Merina’s mind. Why else would her mother not return? Merina had known of drunks in the valley who had one day sobered up, realized where they were and what they had missed, and changed their behaviors. Why not her mother? Merina, for all her anger, did not really want to believe her mother dead.
Merina stood and smoothed out her dress. She realized she needed help with her unhappiness, and she had a woman who had filled the role of mother within reach. It was time to reach out to her.
* * *
Alanu said as Merina entered, “I saw Trinames ride away. He looked pretty upset.”
Slowly closing the door behind her, Merina nodded. “We had a fight.”
“Something you did, or he did?” Alanu asked quietly.
Merina leaned against the kitchen door and thought for a moment. “It probably was as much my fault as his. He made a choice that I wished he hadn’t. I told him so.”
Alanu came closer to stand next to Merina. “We aren’t talking about the color of curtains in your soon-to-be shared bedroom, are we?”
Merina shook her head. “No, far worse than that, Auntie. He has decided to become a Healer instead of the farmer he originally said he would become. You know how I feel about magic!” She started to weep.
Hugging her niece, Alanu let Merina cry quietly for a while. Merina pulled free, and Alanu wiped the tears off her niece’s face with her apron. “Did he say why he changed his mind?” Alanu spoke in the same gentle voice she would use to calm a frantic calf or foal.
“He said he wanted to ease people’s suffering. But what about the suffering he has caused me? All our plans–gone!”
Alanu guided Merina to the kitchen table and motioned her to one of the stools pushed underneath the large wooden work space. She then grabbed several cups off the counter by the ever-present teapot and poured them both a drink. Settling down next to her niece, Alanu waited till Merina took a sip before trying to talk. Alanu clearly wanted to give Merina a few moments to quiet down after the complaint about her future being ruined. “Until now, dear, the plan was for the two of you to be mated and start a life together. Has that changed?” Alanu asked.
“Good, then we have something positive to start with,” Alanu said cheerfully. “You will soon have the land to start your own holding and the means to pay for a nice home to be built on it. I have heard you tell him that it was your intent that he become more of a landowner like his father than one of the hired hands as he is now. You know you would be managing the farm anyhow–as you have told us many times, it is what you have trained your whole life to do. Whether Trinames works the land or not is not really the issue here, is it? Does it really matter what Trinames does for a living?”
Slamming her cup down, Merina said, “Yes, it does! Farming has value, magic use does not.”
Shaking her head sadly, Alanu poured more tea for herself. “By value, do you mean gold? It would be very easy for magic-users to demand any amount of gold they wanted in return for their services. Long, long ago that was what they did. In their lust for power and wealth, they began to fight amongst themselves. This resulted in a terrible war. In killing each other off, they did not spare the innocent, the very people who needed their support. We, the people, harmed by their violence, suffered the greatest. We had to force the few remaining sorcerers to mend their ways. The sorcerers have taken a vow to serve the people and ask only enough gold in trade for the service they provide to meet their basic needs. This does not mean we do not value their services.”
Merina poured herself another cup, refusing to look at her aunt, knowing Alanu was right. “I did not plan on an income separate from our farming. He would bring in more gold as a farmer working alongside me than in the time he would spend riding around the valley healing people.” A new thought struck Merina. “And there is another thing–I would never see him. The Mayor would insist his Healer live in Dysandes. I would eventually have to sell my holdings, move there, and become a villager.”
“Ah, I see. You would lose your standing in the valley farmers’ eyes. Is that it, Merina?”
“No! Well, yes.”
“There is no reason you would have to give up your holdings. One of my brothers–your uncles–would be happy to manage your land. Do you really think you will have the time to do so anyway when you intend to have children early and often? I’ve heard you tell Trinames that is your plan for a family.”
Merina held her head up proudly. “I know I said that, and I think I can manage to do it as well as you have.”
Alanu slowly smiled. “Then you are trying to prove something to the valley folk. Let me guess–that you are better than your mother, that you do not have her weaknesses, and you will do it without magic.”
Merina simmered with renewed anger. “That’s–”
Alanu quickly put her forefinger against her niece’s lips. “Calm down and think about what I have just said. Whenever someone mentions your mother, you stiffen up and act offended. What did Trinames say that made you do that?”
Merina forced herself to relax, realizing her aunt was trying to help her through this problem. “He…he asked if I was jealous that he had passed the Test and I had not. Which is ridiculous, because I have never tried–and never will.”
“I don’t know how you will ever find peace in your heart, Merina, if you cannot resolve the pain of your mother’s magic use and being deserted by her. Until you learned of it, you were the sweetest child I have ever known. It lies at the heart of this fight with Trinames, but I suspect there is another issue you have with his wanting to become a Healer. What is left if you rule out money, respect of your friends, or your hatred of magic?”
Merina closed her eyes against the tears that started down, wanting only to make this whole day go away. Then she remembered her words and said them aloud. “Four years, Auntie–it will be four years before I can begin the life I’ve dreamed of.” Merina opened her eyes to see Alanu nodding, holding out a towel.
“Now that, my dear, will be the hardest problem you have to deal with here. You have to ask yourself if your love for Trinames can survive the wait. Only you can answer that. Take your time to think through this. You have plenty of time left before you must make a decision.”
* * *
Trinames stood by one of the pair of huge trees that marked the entrance to Merina’s holding and debated the wisdom of leaving his love in her upset condition. He should have stayed and waited for her to come down from her refuge, but he knew the day was already ruined because she would be so very careful to remain calm and reasonable. For her to return to the loving, caring girl she had been before their fight would take time–it always did.
He stared at her sitting beneath her tree and ached to get back on his horse and gallop back down the long road to her side. She would see him coming and walk down the hill to meet him. They would kiss and hold each other, and he would apologize for being stupid. No, what do I have to apologize for? Granted, he should have given her more warning about changing what he wanted to do with his life, instead of waiting till midsummer, but he’d been avoiding the inevitable fight. Still, he had the right to determine what he was going to do with his life–a right she also claimed for herself.
That trait was what had drawn him to her. She was so determined, so clear in her vision of her life. All his friends told him she was the most desired woman in the valley. Heiress to one of the largest holdings, a skilled negotiator who always got the best price for her produce among a valley of strong male landholders, who found that they had to deal with a woman of quick wit when dealing with her. And beautiful! No woman in the valley drew men’s eyes away from her when Merina was present.
He used to be almost afraid to look at her when she sat at her market stall in Dysandes on Settling Day. At thirteen, she had developed the body that made all the boys become aware of what men longed for in a woman. The crude remarks from his brothers concerning her breasts used to make him laugh because they all joked about becoming hard just looking at them. Now he felt angry at every man who looked at her, because they were thinking thoughts that threatened his possession of her.
Why did she want him? He knew she did–she had told him after the first time he had worked up the courage to visit her farm. He was not the catch that the valley mothers talked about. Markinis, the son of Calandis, the largest landholder, held that honor among the sons of the valley’s farmers.
I am just the third son of a small farmer. I will never inherit my father’s holding, and it is too small to be divided up. The farm that lay in front of him, Merina’s current home, was just a piece of the land she would inherit. Mating with Merina would give him land of his own to farm, but that was not what he wanted in life. He had been given the opportunity to do something more with his life other than farming. To become a Healer, someone respected for a service provided. Again he savored the sense of completeness that arose from the idea of helping others, which he had tried so hard to impress on Merina.
After all, he was the one who tended his brothers and their hired hands when injured in the rough work in the fields. He helped in the calving and sewed the wounds on his father’s livestock. With training, he would be able to use magic to assist the valley’s lone Healer in treating injuries that threatened lives, human or otherwise. He could have prevented the death of his favorite colt.
But he had forgotten–no, not forgotten, not thought through–his love’s hatred of magic. And it was the worst thing to bring up her mother. Was it worth the fight? He saw his love walk down the hill into her home. It was time for him to leave.
* * *
The road he was traveling on joined most of the farms in the north of the valley with Dysandes. Since it was well known to both Trinames and his horse, neither was paying much attention to their surroundings. Trinames was trying to figure out how he could get back into Merina’s good graces and still reach his goal of becoming a Healer. A shout from ahead caught him by surprise, and he reined in his horse abruptly. The man who rode toward him was one of his father’s hired hands, a good friend and companion Trinames had known most of his life. It was not like Jarkilis to be so excited by much of anything.
“Cow fourteen forty-three has disappeared, Tri. We need your help to find her.”
It took a moment for Trinames to grasp what the man had shouted out. Cattle in Saphradea were taxed individually, and like most farmers in Saphradea, his family kept track of each animal using numbers branded into the inside of the cow’s ear. Trinames did not like the practice of using their numbers as names, and he had to take a moment to translate the news. Bluebell! One of our best milkers. “Where did she disappear from, Jarkilis? I left her in the field by the barn.”
“That’s where I saw her last. Something must have spooked her bad, because she rushed the gate leading to the far pasture and knocked it open. Your mother and I searched for hours, but fourteen forty-three is not in that field.”
Spurring his horse to a gallop, with Jarkilis right behind, Trinames called over his shoulder, “She’s a pretty big cow and has never spooked like that before!”
“Well, her tracks headed out into the woods and they showed she was running hard.” Jarkilis caught up with him.
“Any sign of dogs? I’m sure none of ours would chase her like that.”
Jarkilis shook his head. “And the dogs we were using to track her did not want to follow her trail. Something big was after her.”
“Where are my father and brothers?”
“Out on the north section. Your mother sent another hand after them, but I knew I could reach you faster.”
Trinames nodded at the wisdom of that. They were an hour closer than his father could be. He glanced at Jarkilis and saw the same concern in the hand’s eyes as he had in his–they might be too late to save Bluebell.
* * *
Reaching home, the two men grabbed bows from the weapons rack by the door, and Trinames stopped to take his medicine kit. He would need it if they were very lucky. His mother yelled to them as they mounted that she would send help as soon as someone showed. The ride to the barn pasture took only a minute. Trinames jumped down from his horse and scanned the tracks. Bluebell, a large heifer, had dug deep spoor into the dry earth. Whatever was chasing her had left no prints. He would have liked to know what the two of them would face when they caught up with the cow.
They followed the trail across the field to where it entered the wood. The trees here were far enough apart that the cow could dodge through them, but so could her attacker. Trinames spotted the start of a trail of blood soon after they entered the wood. Why is she going in this direction? The only thing out here was a small pasture used in the heat of summer to shade the stock. Trinames voiced his question to Jarkilis.
“She headed for the grotto, Tri. She’ll be able to get inside and turn toward her attackers to make them face her horns.”
“I believe you are right. She is the smartest of the lot that came out of Mavis years ago.”
“Mavis? Oh, you mean twelve-forty. Yeah, now that was one great heifer.”
As they suspected, the trail was heading for the grotto, and they quickly decided to stop tracking the animal and race as fast as they could through the woods to intercept her. Breaking out of the trees, they caught sight of the battle happening at the front of the cave.
“Look at the size of that wolf,” gasped Jarkilis as he nocked an arrow to his bow.
Trinames was shocked by what he saw. There were at least three wolves weaving in and out in front of Bluebell–all of them bigger than any he had ever seen before. The leader stood a foot taller than the other two and was the most aggressive in charging the exhausted cow, who was barely able to thrust her horns forward to stop him. Screaming in anger, Trinames took off in a charge toward the leader. Trinames’s action only incited the biggest wolf to spin around and face the onrushing threat. He realized he had no weapon prepared to strike with and clumsily pulled his sword from its scabbard.
He barely got it free when the horse he was riding reared up to lash out with her hooves. The wolf easily dodged the kicks, but an arrow slammed into one of its back legs with a thud, and the wolf yelped in pain. It spun around and bit at the arrow, snapping the shaft off with its powerful jaws. A second arrow whipped past its head, and the animal took off running away from Trinames. He reached for his bow to arm it while the other two wolves quickly ran after their leader. In seconds he had no targets to shoot at. “Thanks,” Trinames said as Jarkilis rode up beside him.
“That wolf didn’t look too scared of you, and I was afraid I would have to explain to your father why I let you take off on that foolish charge.”
Trinames got off his horse and stepped over to Bluebell. As he examined the exhausted cow, he said over his shoulder. “Most wolves would have run from my approach, but not these. Look at her–they’ve torn her to pieces.”
“She’s bleeding out, Tri. Not much you can do. I’ll cut her throat to put her out of pain.”
“No,” Trinames said stubbornly. “They did not get her jugular vein. I can clean up those wounds. The ones on her flanks and pasterns where they tried to bring her down are where she has lost a lot of blood. Oh no, look, they have cut the milk vein running along her lower torso. That’s what is killing her!” Hearing a thrashing in the woods not far away, he looked up. “What was that?”
From his height advantage on his horse, Jarkilis peered into the distance and reported that he saw the wolves moving around just out of bowshot. “They’re waiting to see what we’re going to do. What are we going to do?”
“I’ll stop the bleeding–just keep the wolves at bay until help arrives,” Trinames said grimly.
Jarkilis turned his mount to face away from Trinames. “You’re going to need someone to put pressure on those wounds to stop the bleeding while you tie off the bleeders. No way I can help you, Tri. The wolves look like they are waiting to rush us as soon as I turn my back.”
Pulling off his outer shirt, Trinames ripped strips of cloth from it. He wadded the remains of the shirt into a ball that he shoved over the flowing hamstrung wound on the left leg and wrapped the strips tightly around the mound of material. “I’ll do what I can by myself. Just keep them off us.”
Jarkilis’s bow snapped loudly behind Trinames, and from the lack of a scream of pain, Trinames guessed that his friend had missed. Trinames concentrated on the stomach wound. Applying a pressure bandage was not going to stop that bleeding. He reached into the wound and found the severed vein, holding it closed with his fingers until he could position a clamp to do the job. The vein would have to be sewn shut, but there was no time to do this now. Clamping the other part of the severed vein took only a moment, but it exhausted his supply of clamps. He turned back to packing the leg wounds with cloth, berating himself for not having the forethought to grab more supplies than he had.
Bluebell’s legs were trembling under his touch, and Trinames knew the heifer was nearing the end of her strength to remain standing. His attempt to rally the cow with soothing words was interrupted by loud yelling from the entrance of the glade as his father and brothers rode onto the scene, driving the wolves away. He had barely finished dressing the forelegs when his father jumped from his horse and rushed up to see what had happened to his cow.
Glancing back and forth between the heifer and his youngest son, the old man clearly had a hard time figuring out who was hurt worse from all the blood covering both. “Trinames, son. Are you all right?”
“I will be, as soon as I get Bluebell stitched up.”
Laughing in relief, his father said, “Oh, you mean fourteen forty-three. Go ahead and try, if you think you can save her. She’ll die long before Sorceress Helinu could be summoned. I’ll send for her anyway so she can witness your efforts.”
And fix any mistakes I make in the process.